Israelis, Demonstrating Isn’t Enough – Strike!

Protesters stand near a poster of Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2018.
Moti Milrod

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abhors strikes. In his failed coalition negotiations following the April 9 election, he was presented with a proposal that would narrow the right to strike. He knows why.

Strikes are the most effective bargaining chip that working people have in the face of the power of money and government. Worse than that, they undermine the appearance of normality and restore civilian sector issues to the public agenda.

In Netanyahu’s world, limiting the right to strike would be good for the population and the current wonderful situation. But in the real world, the situation has been awful for quite some time and people have had enough with the pretense.

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The world in which Netanyahu lives and is nurtured is like a hologram. Everyone knows that the political agenda has long since been turned into a virtual parallel universe, engineered using algorithms that are the product of campaign managers, pollsters, ratings and social media. It involves a few strong business sectors that reinforce one another and shape a hermetic form of political discourse that is divorced from reality.

Campaign advertising is the most damaging and dominant of them all. As a practical matter, it dictates the agenda. We no longer talk about politics; instead we talk about the political campaign.

Perhaps the current situation, like some Cold War between liberals and conservatives, is a sign of two political camps that have lost their relevance, unable to define themselves in the face of the challenges of reality and instead only able to confront one another, slogan vs. slogan.

The big loser is the democratic side, while the ultra-conservative, messianic right wing would probably thrive in a political setting so divorced from reality. But the lifeblood of democracy is the real public sphere. Supporters of democracy can continue to analyze political campaigns, criticize and sign petitions at their keyboards, but the game is fixed.

The current significance of demonstrating and striking is to dispel inertia and appearances by taking to the streets, and most importantly getting the public agenda out of the hands of campaigners and pollsters and into the real public sphere.

The problem is that in brainwashed Israel, there is an aversion to strikes and disenchantment over demonstrating. The aversion to strikes is the product of years of delegitimization. It’s amazing the extent to which the idea of striking frightens both liberals and conservatives.

The despondency over protest is the result of other influences, such as the disinterest of the media and the phenomenon of police violence. But the media and police would not permit themselves to ignore constant mass demonstrations, nor would harassment of such protests be tolerated.

It looks like the democratic side has voluntarily given up the right to protest and strike. For it, the political drama has become a kind of reality show. And even if members of the democratic camp finally take to the streets to demonstrate, they agonize over issues such as how it would serve the opposing camp’s campaign, or how to do it without angering members of the public.

This tendency has also been notable in considering demonstrations that have been held over the past year. It was also apparent in the wave of social justice protests in 2011, which was overwhelmed by campaign and ratings considerations and lost its ideological relevance.

One way or another, the effectiveness of demonstrations is reliant on media coverage, and mainstream media people are more interested in opinion polls (or proving that they don’t have a left-wing sister). Therefore, in the current situation, protesting is not enough. Strikes are the ultimate means of restoring a political agenda that has been taken away from Israel’s citizens.

There is a broad potential coalition for a strike. Health system workers have an interest in striking because while Netanyahu and Health Ministry chief Yaakov Litzman have their eye on serving another term, doctors and nurses are working 16-hour shifts. Staff in the education system also have an interest in striking. They are currently working under a racist, unenlightened education minister.

Arabs and left-wingers also have an interest in striking, because the blood libel and incitement against them cannot be tolerated. Farmers have an interest in striking, because while Netanyahu and the members of his cabinet wave the banner of Zionism, they are choking off agriculture.

Anyone with a memory of solidarity has an interest in striking, because while Netanyahu whines about his legal situation and drinks high-priced champagne at our expense, a third of Israel’s children live below the poverty line. High-tech companies and universities have an interest in striking because while the prime minister boasts about Startup Nation, he is dragging Israel into the Third World.

When all is said and done, a strike could remind Netanyahu and the Israeli public as a whole what the economy looks like without the labor of segments of the population that have been shunned and abandoned – whether it’s Arabs, leftists, the middle class, farmers or public sector employees. We need to make use of the right to strike while we still can.